Photo Credit: Rory Kramer
Justin Bieber rose to fame in 2009 at 15-years-old with his debut EP, My World. From there, Bieber rose to startling new heights which lead to a peak for his fourth album, Purpose. After a mental health break following the subsequent ‘Purpose’ tour, he decided to start making music again by releasing collaborations and singles to prelude his album Changes. It was Changes that led him to a rocky patch in his career. While fans embraced the album and nods to his wife, Hailey Baldwin, critics had a less than favorable response to songs like “Yummy”, that many regarded as one of the worst songs of the year.
Bieber began to return to form with his single “Lonely”, done with benny blanco. With a song about dealing with growing up in the spotlight, Bieber reached a level of depth and openness that was not reached on his previous album. Lyrics like “Cause I’ve had everything,but no one’s listening, and that’s just f*cking lonely” detail the emotional toll that fame has had on the 27-year-old singer. He followed up “Lonely” with the song “Anyone” and many were excited that Bieber was going to release an album on par with Purpose.
Justice was announced in February of this year with Bieber writing that his goal for the album was to “make music that will provide comfort, to make songs that people can relate to and connect to so they feel less alone.” He also made it clear that he wanted to “continue the conversation of what justice looks like so we can continue to heal.” From the opening track, Justice finds the focus that Changes lacked, seeing Bieber back at this best.
While none of the tracks openly comment on social change, his inclusion of two Martin Luther King Jr. speeches were used to open the album, and as an interlude about halfway through the record. Including these tracks sparked controversy with some claiming that this was just performative activism. The placement of these tracks can be a little head scratching, since it is preceded by the contemplative “Unstable”, a song about loving someone through difficult times, and “Die for You”, a synthy track reminiscent of the ‘80s that’s also about his spouse.
Upon closer inspection, the message of the MLK interlude fits with the overall album quite nicely. MLK uses this speech to talk about passion – specifically a passion so strong that you would lay down your life for it. The track opens with the line “If you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live.” Justin Bieber has found that passion. And that passion is his wife.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why Justice works instead of Changes since the main focus is Bieber’s love for his spouse. The songs on this record feel full of life, instead of tracks devoid of emotion. The production is reminiscent of Purpose with modern updates and the collaborators Bieber brings on each add a new flavor to the tracks from Chance the Rapper to Daniel Caesar and more. Even though lyricism might not be Bieber’s strong suit on songs like “Peaches”, he does get his message across on other tracks of the album. Specifically, the song “Somebody” drives home the theme of the album: “Everybody needs somebody // Somebody to remind you that you’re not alone.”